Gopeesingh for the first time indicated his support for Persad-Bissessar at a press conference held at his St Clair offices in Port-of-Spain.

He had been tipped as the last on a list of seven MPs needed for Persad-Bissessar to clinch the post.

The Caroni East MP’s crucial support came one day after Oropouche East MP Roodal Moonilal also indicated his support for the newly elected political leader and now serves to largely resolve lingering uncertainty over whether or not Persad-Bissessar would be able to take up the Constitutional post, which requires the holder to be able to command the support of the majority of Opposition MPs.

“In the interest of preserving the UNC’s stability and credibility, and in the interest of serving the people who elected me into office, I have decided to give my support to Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Opposition Leader,” Gopeesingh said. Appearing emotional as he broke his almost month-long silence on the issue of whether he would support Persad-Bisssessar he noted that her victory at the UNC’s internal election on January 24 was “resounding”.

“I need to recognise that the people have spoken and our duty is to listen to them... There have been widespread public views, editorials and general calls on MPs like myself, who supported Mr Basdeo Panday in the recent elections, to in fact use our parliamentary power of choice to elect Mrs Persad-Bissessar as Opposition Leader,” he said.

In immediate reaction, Persad-Bissessar thanked Gopeesingh, and her fellow MPs for their support and offered kind words to Panday.

“This is not a victory for me or one group over another,” she said. “Our party and nation can never move forward with such a narcissistic outlook or intent, this is an outcome in which the will of the people prevails. This is what makes the result a good one”

“I wish to thank my fellow MP’s for their expressed support and to acknowledge the service of my political mentor, former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable, Basdeo Panday, who blazed the political trails which so many of us like myself now follow.”

In an interview, the Siparia MP, however, said she would hold a meeting “with all UNC MPs” to have discussions before any further action is taken in relation to moves to have her formally installed in the post. But regardless of the outcome of such a meeting, which is tentatively carded for tomorrow, it is clear that she now has the requisite support needed to allow her to write President George Maxwell Richards on the issue.

Gopeesingh had been tipped as the final name on a list of seven UNC MPs Persad-Bissessar needed to clinch the post. In addition to Moonilal, sources this week indicated that Panday loyalist Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma has also privately indicated his support.

Persad-Bissessar now has seven Opposition MPs supporting her, namely: Gopeesingh, Moonilal, Sharma, Chaguanas West MP (and UNC chairman) Jack Warner, Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Harry Partap; Mayaro MP Winston “Gypsy” Peters and Naparima MP Nizam Baksh. Sunday Newsday understands that Panday will today meet with the remaining MPs at the home of Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath’s home in Palmiste, South Trinidad in the wake of Gopeesingh’s announcement.

Among those expected at today’s meeting are: St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath, Tabaquite MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ramnath, Oropouche West MP Mickela Panday, Princes Town North MP Subhas Panday. Ramnath yesterday confirmed today’s meeting.

“We will discuss where we are now having regard to the fact that the numbers seem to now eliminate Panday as leader,” he said. “There has to be a consideration as to what role he will have to play.”

Bharath, who last week returned from an almost month-long trip to visit relatives in London, said he would meet with both Panday and Persad-Bissessar in order to discuss developments. He noted that he has not yet come to a final position. “I want to be able to air my reservations with both of them,” he said.

At yesterday’s press conference Gopeesingh at times appeared sombre, wearing a black jacket with a white shirt and yellow tie. He said his decision to back Persad-Bissessar was one which he did not take lightly, given his relationship with Panday.

“My decision has come with a considerable measure of personal disquiet and emotion. Let me state from the outset that my faith in Mr Panday’s ability as a leader remains unshaken. He remains my close friend, my mentor and my political inspiration,” Gopeesingh said. In immediate reaction Panday yesterday said he felt betrayed by Gopeesingh. He noted that Gopeesingh had informed him of his decision on Friday evening.

“He called late yesterday, I said nothing,” Panday said. Questioned on his future role in the UNC in light of the number now conclusively against him, Panday said, “I am going to enjoy myself.” Questioned further he said he would be willing to perform a role in the party. “It depends on what I am called upon to perform. Suppose I am called upon to perform the task of destroying the UNC. That is not something I would do,” he said. The Couva North MP said he was open to talks with Persad-Bissessar on the issue. “I’ll talk to anybody, I don’t stop talking to people because of politics,” he said.

Persad-Bissessar remained locked in talks of her own yesterday, at one stage speaking on the phone with Moonilal at 2.30 pm. She noted that while she is now empowered to take up the post of Opposition Leader she is concerned about “the dignity of the process”. In an apparent reference to Panday’s unwillingness to let go of the post, she said, “that has been my concern all along.”

Persad-Bissessar noted that a letter from MPs to President George Maxwell Richards indicating support for the post could be sent this week but not before discussions with all UNC MPs. The Parliament was adjourned on Friday to this Wednesday at 1.30 pm.



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